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Playoffs remain Chivas USA's focus

Entering Saturday's game against the Columbus Crew, Chivas USA sits in an unenviable position. The expansion club, dead last in the Western Conference with 14 points, has long been given up for dead in the playoff race and with good reason.

Chivas USA is a full 14 points back of Colorado for the fourth and final playoff spot in the west and even if the club were to reel off a seven-game winning streak, it would all be erased with just seven Rapids points.

But that doesn't mean Chivas have given up hope.

"Until the moment that it's impossible, then OK, but as long as it's possible we will fight for it," Chivas coach Hans Westerhof said.

If Chivas are to have any sort of hopes, however, a win at The Home Depot Center against the Crew is vital. With the arrival of Francisco Palencia and Juan Pablo Garcia, who will make their home debuts Saturday, the offensive side of the ball has improved and has given the club a glimmer of hope.

Chivas USA tied consecutive road games for the first time all season. In fact, the 3-3 draw at the MetroStars on Aug. 14 was just the second time all season that Chivas had not lost on the road; the 2-2 match at FC Dallas a week later was the third.

"We've set the bar now," Chivas defender Ezra Hendrickson said. "We've gone to the road and tied New York and Dallas and our fans are expecting to us and we're expecting to come here and take care of business."

Saturday also marks the first-ever meeting between Chivas and Columbus. With any luck, the Crew will join San Jose and the MetroStars as the only clubs who have not beaten Chivas USA. More importantly, however, a win would set a positive tone for the rest of the campaign.

"A win here on Saturday could really give us a good momentum boost where maybe we go out and win the next six," Hendrickson said. "It's not going to be easy but we're confident that we have the firepower and that we have a team that can really do some damage the last six or seven games of the season."

Chivas USA's schedule is not easy. The club plays Columbus, Colorado and Western Conference leaders San Jose home and away and closes out the season with a home game against the MetroStars, who could very well be battling for their playoff lives at that point.

"If we look at the numbers, we're going to get discouraged but we just have to take it game by game and if we start winning one, two, three games in a row, it's going to clear up for us," Chivas forward Antonio Martinez said. "Hopefully Colorado is going to start losing. We're pretty sure we're going to finish ahead of Salt Lake so Colorado is going to have to start losing for us to make up the points."

Still, regardless of the playoff push, Westerhof remains optimistic. The club is improving and playing some of the best soccer it has played all season. And that helps in the long run, even if the playoffs are out of reach.

"At least we played better. I always said to the boys, 'Our goal is to win but when you (improve) every game you are going to win more games to be sure.'"

Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.